Sorkin’s secret to writing Steve Jobs movie? Panic

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Michael Fassbender as Steve Jobs.
Michael Fassbender as Steve Jobs.
Photo: Universal Pictures

By taking place as a series of backstage vignettes at different product launches, the upcoming Steve Jobs movie is sure to be different to any other Jobs movie we’ve seen before.

In a new interview, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin laid out his reasons for writing the movie in the way he did. The secret? A whole lot of panic, apparently.

Speaking with Wired, Sorkin describes himself as technologically illiterate and jokingly says he’s got no clue why he has become Hollywood’s “go-to guy for the binary system.”

The interview is pretty interesting, however, particularly when Sorkin describes the way it came about and the top-secret measures used to keep the script under wraps.

Talking about the movie’s origins, Sorkin says that:

“I had just done The Social Network and Moneyball for Sony, with Scott Rudin producing. Amy Pascal, who at the time was the co-chairperson at [the movie’s original studio] Sony, called and said, “We want you to adapt Walter Isaacson’s [Steve Jobs] book.” I sort of immediately began shaking. Scott is very good at talking me into things when I’m nervous about doing them, and I said yes.

I’m nervous before I do anything … But in this case, it was particularly daunting for me as I didn’t know that much about Steve Jobs, and the idea of doing a biopic was daunting.

[T]he first couple of months [were] spent just pacing around, climbing the walls, and saying, “I have no idea what I’m going to do. I don’t know how to do this.” It was in that period that I decided not to write a biopic.”

Sorkin says the structure he wound up going with presented itself while he was doing his research.

“In reading about the trouble they were having getting the Mac to say “Hello” at the 1984 launch, I got this idea, and I wrote an email to Scott saying, “If I had no one to answer to, I would write this entire movie in three real-time scenes, and each one would take place backstage before a particular product launch. I would identify five or six conflicts in Steve’s life and have those conflicts play themselves out in these scenes backstage—in places where they didn’t take place.”

I was emailing Scott to get help: Take this thing that I really want to do and tell me what I’m allowed to do, because no studio is going to let me do this. Two or three minutes later, I got an email from Amy Pascal—Scott had forwarded my email to her—and she said, “I think this is a great idea.” I couldn’t believe it. They were going to let me do this thing. And so it turned into not a biopic. I’m not quite sure what to call it.”

Sorkin also details the way the finished movie script was kept under lock and key; appropriately enough, making it sound like a genuine Apple project.

“The script itself was very heavily guarded. Once it was done, you had to go to Amy Pascal’s or Scott Rudin’s office to read it, and I’m talking about the heads of agencies—Ari Emanuel and Richard Lovett. An employee would be sitting in the room while they read it. There was just a lot of security around it.”

The whole interview is more than worth a read, and goes into additional detail about the Sony hack, the troubled casting for the movie, and Sorkin’s thoughts on Jobs himself.

Personally speaking, I’m incredibly excited about this movie, which debuts in theaters on October 23. Aaron Sorkin and director Danny Boyle may have taken a counterintuitive approach to the biopic with its unusual twist on the three-act structure, but judging by early reviews this could be among 2015’s strongest movies.

Sorkin fans wouldn’t expect anything less.